April 27, 2007

Rodney Strong Night at Rio Secco!

I don't often talk about special events, but this one is a little different. The wine event at Rio Secco Country Club on Thursday evening, April 26, was pretty nice. In fact, I got to learn quite a bit about wines from one of my old standby producers, Rodney Strong.

It was promoted as a wine and networking event, and it lived up to the publicity. While I didn’t take the time to count how many people were there, I would guess about a 100 or so. Give or take.

Of course, my primary focus was less on the networking and more on the “wine” part of the evening! There were two pourers, Nick Litersky, DM of On Premise Wine at Southern Wine and Spirits, and Mitch Preston, Mountain States Sales Manager for Rodney Strong. There were nine wines from the Rodney Strong portfolio that were poured, and I’d like to share some of my tasting observations (such as they are) with you. Remember, I’m not an actual wine professional, and I don’t even play one on TV! With that being said, I am always on a quest for good “house wines,” that is, those wines that I can pop and pour at a moment’s notice, whether it’s for company who’s just stopping by or for myself! Just like about every other wineau, I have those wines that require great pomp and circumstance when opening, but those are the exceptions. I call those my “I paid *what* for that wine?!??” wines.

Unfortunately, the vintage years weren’t printed on the information sheet about the wines, so I’m going to presume that all of these are the current releases. I don’t remember what the years were. Sorry! But I took lots of notes.

Nick poured the whites and the Pinot Noir. They were as follows:

Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc. The only screwcap of the evening, this was meant to be drunk now. Lightly scented with melon and citrus, it offered pear, melon, grapefruit and a slight mineral quality on the palate. It’s an interesting balance between the highly fragrant SBs of New Zealand and the more austere Sancerres of France, but it can easily compete. Word to the wise …don’t serve this ice cold. Frigid temps shut down the fruit both on the nose and the palate. I revisited this later in the evening and discovered that once slightly warmed, it unleashes its bouquet and becomes a good NZ competitor!

Sonoma County Chardonnay. Immediately I detected butter, cream, lemon, and apple (as in Golden Delicious) fragrances. Lots of oak on the palate, but the taste confirms the fragrance. Nice mouthfeel, with bright fruit and toasty oak nuances. This would be a nice, everyday Chardonnay, even with the amount of oak.

Chalk Hill Chardonnay. Woo hoo! What a nice wine! And the price (I found it for $13.99 at Costco!), can’t be beat. The cream, butter, and lemon were there, but so were bright citrus, pineapple, and a hint of tropical taste. Amazing mouthfeel, with tongue-coating creamy qualities that washed fruit all the way to the back palate. With the minerality and great acidity, I was trying to figure out a great chicken or cheese dish I could pair with it!

Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Surprisingly Burgundian in character (especially for a California wine), it was very light in color and had the characteristic cherry, strawberry, and roses bouquet. It also had an interesting earthiness which I would have expected from an Oregon Pinot. Wonderful acid balance, with the taste confirming the smell. At under $20.00, it’s a very nice Pinot for quaffing. And yes, I did go back for a second (or so) glass.

Over on the red wines side of the clubhouse, Mitch was pouring:

Sonoma County Merlot. I have to admit that it was the stuffed mushrooms that drove me to the Merlot in the first place. They were delicious and they screamed for a deep red wine. While I will usually pair a Pinot with mushrooms, I didn’t think that it would be the best match this time. However, the Merlot made an ideal pairing with this dish. On the nose, there were plums, blueberries, coffee, and maybe a little bit of vegetable (this is a good thing), and earth. The fruit and earth came to the forefront on the palate, especially with the mushrooms. Very nice, surprisingly full-bodied and lush. At under $20.00, it’s definitely a good candidate for a house Merlot. Even Miles would like this one.

Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. Excuse my French – what a kickass, quality wine! Wow! The nose on this was fabulous – cassis, berries, chocolate, with a hint of coffee. There was some toast on the aroma as well. Great mouthfeel, full-bodied, and the taste confirmed the fragrance. Not overly complex, but a very nice wine. Gimme a steak.

Alexander Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This one had a little sweeter nose than the Sonoma. Maybe a bit more berries or cherries? Not as much chocolate or cocoa? But it still was definitely a Cab. Luscious mouthfeel and longer finish than the Sonoma. I found that I enjoyed the Sonoma a little more, but for different reasons. As I look back, I recall a little more earthiness on the Sonoma, and a little more fruit on the Alexander Valley. I tend to like earthier wines overall a little better (Aussie Shirazes excepted), so this strictly a matter of taste.

Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon. Cassis, currant, berries, earthy, and maybe a bit of eucalyptus on the nose. With those descriptions, it still could not be called fruit forward or herbally – those characteristics are well integrated into a structured whole. I revisited this wine a couple of times to get my brain around the palate. Lush mouthfeel, firm tannins, and nicely lingering finish. More complexity than the other two Cabs, which makes this a “sit down and think” wine, rather than a quaffing wine.

Symmetry. This is Rodney Strong’s flagship wine, and at about $50.00, it’s a definite contender. Mitch said that it’s their Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc. The color was striking, as it was an inky purple. On the nose, you’re immediately hit with the ripe plums, cassis, blackberries, leather, and spices. On the tongue, it’s all of those things plus a touch of earth, integrated tannins, and cocoa. Nice long lingering finish that lasts and lasts. There is an almost sweet (as in fruity, not in sugar) quality, but that doesn’t mean that it’s fruit forward. Now, while I loved this wine (thanks Mitch, for pouring it for me several times), I’m not so ready to give up my Robert Young Scion. However, if anyone out there is generous enough buy a bottle of each so that I could suitably compare them, I’d be more than willing!

My favorites were the Chalk Hill Chard, the Merlot, the Sonoma Cab, and the Symmetry. My wine of the evening was the Symmetry. Of course. Unfortunately, I have an Opus One palate paired with a White Zin wallet. Sheesh.

If you were at Rio Secco and would like to share your observations, tasting notes, or opinions, just drop me a line!

By the way, Rio Secco did a great job of ensuring that the appetizers were replenished and that dirty dishes and napkins were cleared away. The staff was unobtrusive and very courteous.

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